A somewhat unusual sight unfolded this past Saturday morning at the Memorial Villages Farmers Market as two little girls ran up to Mallory Cowell's booth, begging for more samples of oatmeal—not exactly the favorite snack food of toddlers, tweens or teens. But the breakfast porridge that Mallory and her husband Ben make isn't your standard gruel, and they're already starting to attract notice for the protein-packed cereal that's bursting with fruit, flax seeds, nuts and whey powder—almost all of it organic.
Each of the seven flavors the Cowells whip up in their Midtown kitchen is a recipe developed by Mallory's aunt, a breast cancer survivor who needed a healthy, fast breakfast option filled with the kind of high-quality protein that was also easy to make (and easy to digest). After prodding from friends and family, Mallory's aunt, Beth Gallo, began selling her newly-named Mad Hectic oatmeal at local farmers markets outside Boston, where she lives; before long, the hot cereal was being spotlighted by everyone from Glamour to the Boston Globe.
But a few years spent juggling oatmeal alongside full-time work and home responsibilities convinced Gallo to sell her company to someone who would continue her mission of making healthy breakfast food: her niece, who'd recently moved from Pittsburgh to Houston with her husband.
"Ironically, it wasn't oil and gas" that brought the Cowells to Houston, laughs Mallory. Instead, it was her job in sales for PPG Pittsburgh Paints; Ben soon found work at an engineering and construction firm. Within a few short years, the Cowells knew they'd found their new home. "We're never going back," says Mallory, who cites the warm weather and Houston's warm welcome as only two reasons for their affection. "We love it here."
The two still work full-time, devoting their weekends to making and selling Mad Hectic, which they officially purchased in 2014. Saturday mornings are spent at the Memorial Villages Farmers Market on Beinhorn at Voss, while nights are spent in the commercial kitchen space they rent from Sinfull Bakery. "We'll go in for an eight-hour shift, from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. and we'll get several hundred bags done in that time," says Mallory, who admits they struggled finding available kitchen space in which to create their oatmeals until she asked Sinfull Bakery owner Dylan Carnes, "What about in the middle of the night? Can we come in then?"
The seven-flavor line-up of oatmeals (all of which cook up in a minute) is notable not only for being protein-heavy—the "Just Plain Good" flavor without any additional nuts or berries packs in 16 grams alone—but for boasting the sort of fresh flavors not typically found in pre-mixed packets of oatmeal. For that, you can credit the ample amounts of almonds, pecans, dark chocolate, raspberries and strawberries put into each six-serving bag. And while the latter two are freeze-dried, notes Mallory: "It still tastes like a tart raspberry when you hydrate it."
Though the almond-pecan and raspberry-almond flavors are currently her top sellers, Mallory says the more unusual chocolate-raspberry, filled with delicate pearls of dark chocolate and fat, rosy berries, has been gaining on them. "Even the chocolate is high-quality chocolate from France," Mallory stresses, before relating the story of how her aunt initially decided on these particular pearls of chocolate. "She had three 9-year-old girls in her kitchen; they taste-tested a bunch of chocolate and chose these." Suddenly, little girls begging for second helpings of oatmeal makes a lot more sense.
"Oatmeal is either really plain and boring or full of sugar," says Mallory, who still uses the same recipes and organic vendors as her aunt, and who one day hopes to expand into more sales locations than the Memorial Villages Farmers Market and her online shop. "There's a lot of different folks out there but I really think we have something unique."